Technology is promised for schools

Glendening wants Internet, phones in every classroom

May cost $50 million

Higher salaries, better training are among other issues

October 23, 1999|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY -- Gov. Parris N. Glendening promised low-tech and high-tech additions to Maryland's public schools yesterday, pledging money to install both telephones and high-speed Internet connections in every classroom within two years.

Speaking to the fall convention of the Maryland State Teachers Association -- one of his strongest political allies -- Glendening also said he would begin a new effort to persuade local governments and school systems to increase teachers' salaries.

"Every time I get asked by elected officials about their local road construction or some other pet project, I am going to ask them, `How are the teacher salaries doing in your county?' " Glendening said. "Now is the time for local governments to step forward and support our teachers."

Glendening's telephone proposal -- expected to cost $8 million -- comes in response to years of complaints from teachers, and would make Maryland the first state in the country to have a telephone in every classroom, according to his staff members.

"Many of you are being treated like children: You are told when you can call, how long you are permitted to call, and sometimes you even have to ask permission to call," Glendening said. "In a very real way, putting phones in classrooms, I believe, will lift the morale of every teacher in this state."

The proposal was greeted by a standing ovation from the more than 2,000 teachers in the Ocean City Convention Center.

"I think the phone issue is critical to doing our job," said Karl K. Pence, president of the union. "It can help with disruptions and it can help us talk to parents."

In the 1990s, classroom telephones have become more common across the country, and they are installed in almost all new school buildings.

As Baltimore County has renovated the intercom and wiring systems in its schools, it has been installing phones in every classroom. About 65 of the district's 161 schools have been upgraded, and all middle and high schools will have classroom phones by the end of this school year, said county schools spokesman Charles Herndon.

But some Baltimore County schools that added phones to every classroom didn't add any phone lines, forcing 20 or 30 teachers -- as well as the school's administrative offices -- to share two outgoing lines. Glendening's plan also would add phones lines to all schools.

The push to upgrade older school buildings with classroom phones took on urgency in the spring after the fatal shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., in which authorities had trouble talking with some classroom areas. Much of the communication occurred through students' cellular phones -- which are banned in most Maryland schools.

Since the shootings, one San Francisco company donated 10,000 cellular phones, limited to making only emergency calls, to high schools in four California cities.

Glendening's proposal aims to not only add security to schools, but also to improve relations between parents and teachers.

"Phones are a very common part of school life these days," said Joyce L. Epstein, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center on School, Family and Community Partnerships. "Putting phones in every classroom is a good advance on helping to build community, school and family partnerships."

Teachers also said installing phones would be a symbolic improvement in respect, giving them the freedom and privacy for calls such as making doctors' appointments and checking on sick children.

"We're the only professional organization in the world without phones on our desks," said Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "You get called all the time and you're supposed to respond to the parents, but you can't."

While the wiring is being installed in schools for phones, Glendening said he wants high-speed, cable Internet connections available at the same time to every classroom, too. He also would pay to upgrade schools with antiquated electrical systems.

"Today, every school is connected to the Internet," Glendening said. "Two years from now, we will have every classroom connected."

The governor's staff is still calculating the specific costs of expanding classroom Internet access, but the Internet and phone installation combined could total $50 million, said Glendening spokesman Mike Morrill. The plan will be part of the governor's proposed budget for 2000-2001 and would require approval the General Assembly.

In addition to calling for local school systems to increase teachers' salaries, Glendening said he will urge them to rethink the way they give teachers professional development, saying there has to be a better way than having teachers spend training days sitting in auditoriums listening to speakers.

He suggested that schools might add a "roving faculty member" to fill in for other teachers during training, eliminating the need for substitute teachers. Another idea would be to take the best teachers and spread them out among schools, having them help others improve.

Improving salaries and training would help Maryland recruit and retain more teachers, Glendening said. The state needs to pay attention to this because it faces a severe shortage of teachers.

Pub Date: 10/23/99

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